Is there a correct order for adjectives in English? Yes, there is! If you want to use more than one adjective to describe something, they must be in the correct order. The order of adjectives in English is fixed; say an adjective out of order and it will sound strange to native speakers. The same might be the case in your native language, though it’s probably not something you’ve ever had to think about. Let’s have a look at how the order of adjectives works in English.
The correct order of adjectives in English
The table below shows the normal order of adjectives in English. You may need to memorise the table at first. After some practice, and especially if you have contact with native English speakers, you will be able to use adjectives in the right order without thinking about it too much.
|Type of adjective||Examples|
|determiner or quantity||a, the, these, some, four, my|
|opinion||lovely, nice, easy, comfortable|
|size||big, small, huge, tall|
|physical quality||thin, heavy, rough|
|shape||round, square, triangular|
|age||old, new, young, 300-year-old|
|colour||red, green, blue|
|origin/ethnicity/religion||French, Chinese, Christian, Hindu|
|material||wood, cotton, metal|
|purpose||cleaning, roasting, sports|
Here are some examples of sentences with more than one adjective:
- She’s got a new, red sports car. Here we can see age, colour and purpose adjectives.
- They bought a beautiful, tiny Japanese vase. Opinion, size and origin are expressed in this sentence.
- It’s a comfortable, heavy, 150-year-old rocking chair. Here we have an opinion, quality, age and purpose to describe the chair.
- They have four square cotton tablecloths. Determiner (number), shape and material are shown here.
Here’s an example showing how you might use adjectives in the right order to make something more descriptive:
A lovely boat
A lovely, small boat
A lovely, small, light boat
A lovely, small, light triangular boat
A lovely, small, light, triangular, blue boat.
A lovely, small, light, triangular, blue Greek boat
A lovely, small, light, triangular, blue, Greek, wooden boat
A lovely, small, light, triangular, blue, Greek, wooden fishing boat
Practise your adjectives!
Can you spot what’s wrong with the order of adjectives in these sentences?
- It’s a Chinese, blue, antique chair.
- Kelly is a blonde-haired, young, tall girl.
*Have a look at the end of the blog to see if you’re right.
Adjectives joined by and
Sometimes, we join adjectives using and. We do this when the adjectives come after the noun and after a linking verb like be. The second to last adjective in the series is usually connected with and:
- This drink is warm, spicy and comforting.
- The car was dark, fast and powerful.
We also use and when we use two adjectives of the same type. This is usually with colours:
- It’s a red and white shirt.
- The cow is black and white.
Opinion or fact adjectives
A general rule when thinking about the order of adjectives is that opinion adjectives come before more factual adjectives. An opinion adjective is something like beautiful, handsome, tasty, unusual; these types of adjectives tell someone what you think. Factual adjectives are everything else: red, large, Turkish, wood. This is an easy way to remember the order of adjectives when you are only using these two types.
- This is delicious Turkish coffee.
- That’s a gorgeous old table.
How many adjectives can I use together?
You can use as many adjectives together as you want in English, as long as they are in the right order. However, in reality, using a lot of adjectives sounds clunky and strange. It’s common to use two adjectives to describe something, and not unusual to use three. Using more than three adjectives to describe one noun isn’t common and isn’t recommended. But, even if you just want to use two, it’s important to get them in the correct order.
When can the order of adjectives change?
The order of adjectives is used in written and spoken language and generally it doesn’t change. However, if you want to emphasise a certain quality, you can put that adjective first:
- Do you want the wooden red slide or the plastic red slide?
Here, the material is important so it comes before the colour. In a normal sentence, it would be the other way round.
Learning to put adjectives in the right order can make your English sound much more natural and it’s quite an easy way to improve!
*The answers to your practise:
- It’s an antique, blue, Chinese chair.
- Kelly is a tall, young, blonde-haired girl.